This week the Kansas Legislature and education policymakers grappled with the Kansas Supreme Court's school finance ruling that ordered the state to find $129 million to resolve inequities between rich and poor school districts. Yet one person was conspicuously missing - Governor Sam Brownback, who was nowhere to be found.
That is unless you turned on FoxNews.
Brownback could be found on Morning Joe and Fox & Friends promoting his rebuilt Kansas. He even had time to swing by the Franklin Center and give a talk during The New York Meeting. If Brownback has the time to do an East Coast media tour in the middle of session, Kansas must be humming along smoothly.
And to hear Brownback tell it all is well in Kansas. Brownback promoted his "record revenues" and the $500 million-plus surplus he's created as governor. He touted his tax policy and how it was helping create jobs in Kansas.
So taking Brownback at his word (a risky decision, we know) Rep. Paul Davis did the sensible thing and called on Sam Brownback and his Kansas Legislature to do their jobs and fix their unconstitutional school funding from our $500 million-plus surplus.
“Our children can never reclaim the opportunities they were denied as a result of state budget cuts, but we can act now and set things right. After years of waiting for Gov. Brownback to properly fund schools, Kansas kids deserve action.” - Paul DavisOur Kansas kids do deserve action. It's the moral thing to do to return this funding and guarantee all Kansas kids, rich or poor, have a quality education. It's also the smart thing to do because failing to act may have serious consequences.
Based upon the Court's ruling, Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis estimates that districts could lose as much as $1 billion statewide if lawmakers fail to fix equity issues. "A billion dollars would be devastating," Dennis said.
But don't worry, if Brownback's claims of a surging Kansas with a record surplus are true, we've got the money. Complying with the Court will be a no-brainer for him and his fellow far-right Republicans.
Well, no-brainer is half right.
Here's what Brownback's far-right allies have to say about complying with the court's order:
Rep. Kyle Hoffman of Coldwater, said tapping cash reserves for the full cost is "not going to be the solution."Which begs the question: if our economy is so strong, we have a $500 million-plus surplus, and Kansas is taking in record revenues, why are Brownback and his handpicked legislators still refusing to prove they support education by putting up the cash?
Speaker Ray Merrick: “I don’t know if new funds need to be added, or if there’s funds already in the system that can be used.”
Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican: "It's not likely that we just whip out the checkbook and write a check off of the taxpayers' account."
Gov. Sam Brownback in response to whether he supports complying with the $129 million court order: "That's going to be one that needs to be discussed in the Legislature."
Reason #1: the surplus Brownback crows about so frequently (here, here, and here) exists in part because of cuts he made to education. In 2011, Brownback signed the single largest education cut in Kansas's history - and then called it a victory. The size of the cut - over $100 million. Awfully close to the amount the Kansas Supreme Court just ordered Brownback and the Kansas Legislature to put back into schools. It's not likely Brownback will simply return the money he took from schools.
Reason #2: any money that goes back into schools is money that can't be used to finance his $3.9 billion tax plan that handed out corporate loopholes and giant tax breaks to billionaires and special interests. And as Brownback keeps claiming, Kansas needs this tax plan to grow.
Reason #3: Brownback helped elect far-right legislators who can charitably be referred to as anti-education. These legislators have spent the entire 2014 session resisting Sam Brownback's request for $16 million for all-day K. They've also cut $2 million in funding from KU for public-private partnerships and refused to release funds to the KU Medical School that would go to build new training facilities that could help ease Kansas's doctor shortage and ensure KU Med's continued accreditation. These legislators may listen to Brownback, but it won't be easy. That's why now is the time for Brownback to assert leadership.
Instead, Brownback has taken a page from President Obama's strategic playbook and dumped the whole problem on the legislature. Talking with reporters, Brownback said that "his administration isn't giving legislators any advice about how to address aid to poor districts other than, 'Let's fix it.'" Granted, Brownback had three years to fix the problem he created and with a self-proclaimed surplus that would easily cover the $129 million, but no, this is now on the Legislature.
Brownback would do well to follow Paul Davis's advice: be a leader and start thinking about the Kansans his actions have hurt.
"Think about those kids who started school when the recession began. They are now halfway through their K-12 years and have endured nothing but budget cuts. We can’t wait for the court. We have to solve this problem and we have to solve it now.” - Paul DavisFor Kansas' sake and our kids' sake, we hope Gov. Sam Brownback heeds these words of advice and puts up the money he took from education to build his surplus. If he doesn't, he can shut up about supporting Kansas schools.
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